March 6, 2018: Results of the Active Bathing to Eliminate (ABATE) Infection Trial Published in The Lancet

The Active Bathing to Eliminate (ABATE) Infection trial compared routine bathing to decolonization with universal chlorhexidine and targeted nasal mupirocin in non-critical-care units. Similar interventions have been found to reduce multidrug-resistant pathogens and bloodstream infections in intensive care units (ICUs), and this was the first large-scale trial in non-critical-care units. The primary outcome was methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) clinical cultures attributed to participating units.

“We found that universal decolonization did not reduce infection in the overall population, but in post-hoc analyses of patients with medical devices the regimen was associated with significant reductions in all-cause bloodstream infections and MRSA or VRE clinical cultures.” —Huang et al. The Lancet 2019

The ABATE Infection trial was a large-scale pragmatic trial involving approximately189,000 patients in the baseline period and 340,000 patients in the intervention period across 194 non-critical-care units in 53 hospitals. The trial was one of the first NIH Collaboratory Demonstration Projects, and in keeping with the Collaboratory’s mission, the investigators have helped expand the knowledge base about the design, conduct, and dissemination of pragmatic clinical trials.

Active Bathing to Eliminate (ABATE) Infection Trial Completes Intervention Phase

The Active Bathing to Eliminate (ABATE) Infection trial (ClinicalTrials.gov #NCT02063867) has completed its intervention phase—the first NIH Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory UH3 Demonstration Project to reach this major milestone. The large-scale, cluster-randomized pragmatic clinical trial (PCT) was designed to assess an approach for reducing multidrug-resistant organisms and hospital-associated infections (HAIs) in nearly 200 non-critical care hospital units affiliated with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) across the United States.

Susan Huang, MD, MPH
ABATE study PI Dr. Susan Huang

The ABATE study is led by principal investigator Dr. Susan Huang of the University of California, Irvine, who stated “We are elated to reach the successful completion of the trial thanks to an incredible investigative team at HCA, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Rush University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and UC Irvine. We look forward to what the trial data will tell us and hope that we can continue to find effective ways to protect patients from infection.”

In the ABATE study, patients hospitalized in non-critical care units were bathed either according to the hospital unit’s usual care procedures (the control group) or bathed with the topical antibacterial agent chlorhexidine (plus nasal administration of the antibiotic mupirocin for those patients who were colonized or infected with, or had a history of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA] [the intervention group]). The study investigators will compare the number of unit-attributable, multidrug-resistant organisms in clinical cultures between the study arms; these organisms include vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), MRSA, and gram-negative bacteria. In addition, the investigators will compare the number of unit-attributable infections in the bloodstream and urinary tract (all pathogens) and Clostridium difficile infections. Cultures were collected at baseline and post intervention and will be assessed to determine whether resistance emerged to decolonization products.


“We are elated to reach the successful completion of the trial thanks to an incredible investigative team at HCA, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Rush University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and UC Irvine.We look forward to what the trial data will tell us and hope that we can continue to find effective ways to protect patients from infection.”


Healthcare-associated infections caused by common bacteria, including MRSA and VRE, are a leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States and are associated with upward of $6.5 billion in annual healthcare costs. Although these bacteria normally live on the skin or in the nose, under certain circumstances they can cause serious or even life-threatening infections. Hospitalized patients who are ill or who have weakened immune systems are especially at risk for such infections. Because these pathogens are resistant to many antibiotics, they can be difficult to treat.

In intensive care units (ICUs), reducing the amount of such bacteria (a process referred to as decolonization) by treating patients’ skin with chlorhexidine and their noses with mupirocin ointment has been shown to reduce MRSA infections and all-cause bacteremias. However, relatively little is known about the effects of decolonization in hospital settings outside of critical care units, although this is where the majority of such infections occur. The ABATE trial, in contrast, is testing its bathing and decolonization strategy in adult medical, surgical, oncology, and step-down units (pediatric, psychology, peri-partum, and bone marrow transplantation units were excluded).

Over the course of the study, more than a million showers and baths were taken, and all sites have completed the intervention. The next steps for the ABATE investigators are to finish strain collection over the coming weeks, and then clean, validate, and analyze the data over the coming months.


Resources: NIH Health Care Systems Collaboratory Demonstration Project. Active Bathing to Eliminate (ABATE) Infection trial. 2014. Available at: https://www.nihcollaboratory.org/demonstration-projects/Pages/ABATE.aspx. Accessed February 2, 2015.

Huang SS, Septimus E, Moody J, et al. Randomized Evaluation of Decolonization vs. Universal Clearance to Eliminate Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in ICUs (REDUCE MRSA Trial). 2012. Available at: https://idsa.confex.com/idsa/2012/webprogram/Paper36049.html. Accessed December 15, 1024.

Huang SS, Septimus E, Kleinman K, et al. Targeted versus universal decolonization to prevent ICU infection. N Engl J Med 2013;368:2255–2265. PMID: 23718152. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1207290.

Collaboratory’s Susan Huang receives research achievement award from Clinical Research Forum


Dr. Susan Huang, principal investigator for the NIH Collaboratory’s ABATE (Active Bathing To Eliminate Infection) UH3 Demonstration Project, has received a Clinical Research Achievement Award(PDF) from the Clinical Research Forum, an advocacy group that includes leaders from academia, government, industry, and private foundations.

Susan Huang, MD, MPH
Susan Huang, MD, MPH

ABATE is a cluster-randomized trial that will evaluate different strategies for preventing hospital-acquired infections, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, a potentially serious complication and one that is particularly dangerous in intensive care units, although MRSA is known to create problems across a wide range of settings.

Dr. Huang was one 10 winners of CRF Research Achievement Awards, which are presented annually. A key report related to the ABATE project was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June of 2013.

Additional details of the award are available here.

Congratulations to Dr. Huang and her team!